2. Recent trends of civil law court cases
This chapter examines the evidence from courts data of the effect of court reforms in recent years.
The total number of civil cases initiated in the courts increased in 2021-22, up 23% on the total for 2020-21. There were increases in all case types from the previous year except damages which fell marginally. The highest increases were seen in repossessions (up 1,204%) and evictions (up 200%). The increase in repossessions follows a large Covid-related fall in 2020-21 to a record low. The increase in initiations in 2021-22 brings numbers closer to pre-pandemic levels but still 46% lower than 2019-20. Evictions too are still substantially lower than pre-pandemic levels (84% down on 2019-20). Personal injury (up 12%) and family (up by 17%) recorded the lowest increases. Damages saw a 4% decrease from 2020-21 (see section 3.2 for more information).
The number of initiated cases at the sheriff courts were stable at around 72,000 for the first four years since 2012-13, reaching a peak of 75,600 in 2017-18 then fluctuated in recent years (the figure excludes summary applications which are however included in Figure 1 repossessions) (Table 1 & Figure 3). Cases in the Court of Session saw a more fluctuating trend.
In the following sections we examine these trends further in the context of the reforms of civil courts proceedings discussed in chapter 4.
2.1 Courts and procedures
In 2021-22, 48,067 cases were initiated in the sheriff courts and 47,522 were disposed. This represents a 25% increase in initiations and a 31% increase in disposals on the previous year (Table 3).
However, the increase in initiations was not uniform across all procedures in the sheriff courts. The numbers of ordinary cause procedures increased by 17% from 2020-21, with simple procedure (27%) and summary cause (71%) also increasing. Small claims, which have largely been replaced by simple procedure decreased by 88%.
Phase one simple procedure saw 23,273 cases initiated, and 23,184 disposed of. There was a 27% increase in initiated cases from 2020-21, while disposals were up by 14%.
The simple procedure has absorbed nearly all small claims and summary cause cases for debt and damages actions (Table 12 and Table 19).
A further 3,321 cases were initiated in the national Sheriff Personal Injury Court, a 13% increase on 2020-21 (Table 18). Many of the cases pursued in the Sheriff Personal Injury Court would likely have been initiated at the Court of Session, which has seen a fall in the number of cases initiated since the institution of the specialised court (Table 1).
While business levels have increased by 23% across all courts since 2020-21, the number of cases initiated at the Court of Session increased by a smaller margin of 18%, to 2,478 in 2021-22.
Combined, the simple procedure and Sheriff Personal Injury Court accounted for 49% of all civil court business, similar to the levels in 2020-21.
The relative costs of these procedures is provided on the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service website.
2.2 Judicial review
The Court of Session deals with judicial review. This is a specialised type of court procedure that can be used to challenge the way a person or body with power or authority has made a decision if no other remedy is possible.
There were 201 judicial review cases initiated in 2021-22, a 16% decrease on 2020-21 (Table 25). Between 2015-16 and 2016-17 there was a large decrease, explained in part due to a rise in number of judicial reviews in the preceding year, ahead of the reforms specified in the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. The number of judicial reviews initiated at the Petition Department of the Court of Session has been variable over time.
Sheriff Appeal Court (Civil)
In 2021-22, 189 cases were initiated and 128 disposed of (Table 26). Compared to 2020-21, the number of initiated cases increased by 43% while disposed cases decreased by 2%.
Prior to January 2016, appeals would have been directed to the Court of Session, thereby entailing higher costs and possibly taking longer to determine. There has been a decrease in the appeals made from the sheriff courts, but numbers are small: for the last five years there were 31, 21, 21, 9 and 12 respectively (Table S8 Supplementary statistics tables). All the years correspond to when the Sheriff Appeal Court operated for full financial years.
Appeals from Court of Session to the UK Supreme Court
In 2021-22, 21 civil law applications were initiated under the provisions for bringing appeals to the UK Supreme Court (Table 27). During this period, 21 applications were disposed of by the Inner House of the Court of Session (three granted, 15 refused and three withdrawn).
In 2021-22, of the 13 cases disposed of by the Supreme Court for permission to appeal (having been initially refused by the Inner House in Scotland), two were granted and 11 were refused.
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